Hormonal regulation of agonistic and affiliative behavior in female Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus)

Maria Razzoli, Bruce S. Cushing, C. Sue Carter, Paola Valsecchi

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40 Scopus citations


Ovarian steroids and oxytocin (OT) have been implicated in the regulation of social behaviors. The purpose of the present study was to examine hormonal substrates of aggression and affiliation in the female Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), a highly social, monogamous rodent. Sexually naive adult females were paired with sexually experienced males for 48 h and their interactions videotaped. Females were gonadally intact and tested during vaginal estrus (INT) or ovariectomized and observed after the following treatments, administered by means of sc injections: EBEB (7 days of estradiol-benzoate); EBP (2 days of EB followed by progesterone), SALEB (saline, days 1-5 then 2 days of EB), OTEB (OT for days 1-5 then 2 days of EB); OTOIL (OT for days 1-5 then 2 days of OIL); or SALOIL (saline days 1-5 then 2 days of OIL). During the first hour of pairing INT females displayed higher levels of affiliation and lower levels of sniffing and agonistic behavior than SALOIL females. All hormonal treatments reduced agonistic behaviors when compared to SALOIL, although none of the hormonal treatments restored affiliation to INT levels. During the 48-h test overt aggression varied by treatment with INT, EBEB, EBP, and OTEB females displaying lower levels than SALOIL, while all groups displayed similar levels of affiliation. The results indicate that OT and E play a significant role in regulating male-directed aggressive behavior in females and that the presence of ovarian hormones as well as OT can increase affiliation during initial contact. Over a sustained period of cohabitation social cues appear to be more important in regulating affiliation than gonadal hormones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-553
Number of pages5
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Nancy Cushing for help in reviewing the manuscript and Dr. Estelle Russek-Cohen for statistical advice. We also thank Dr. Orazio Oliverio for help with the surgical procedures and Valeria Vascelli for helping in animal care. This project was supported in part by NIH MH 01992 (to BSC) and HD 38490 (to CSC and BSC).


  • Affiliation
  • Aggression
  • Estrogen
  • Female
  • Mongolian gerbil
  • Oxytocin
  • Progesterone


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